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Climate change shaping up to be a serious blow to public health: Report

Wednesday, June 23rd 2021, 11:31 am - An ever-warmer world can be hazardous to people’s health, and a new study aims to anticipate the expected public health impacts.

Climate change, and its associated influence on natural disasters, is already expected to take a bite out of Canada’s economic growth over the coming century — and increasingly, it’s becoming a public health crisis too.

That’s according to a new report by the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices that estimates the impact on public health on several health-risk factors that are expected to worsen — affecting millions of people and costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

“We were able to quantify how much the health impacts of climate change will cost Canada, and the enormous value in investing now to get ahead of these risks,” Dylan Clark, senior research associate and one of the report’s authors, told The Weather Network. “The bottom line: preparing for climate change through adaptation is one of the most important things Canada can do to protect lives and control costs.”

Ground-level ozone, for example, a key component in smog, could increase by 22 per cent by century’s end, increasing cancer-related healthcare costs by a quarter.

“The costs of death and lost quality of life are even greater — we estimate these costs will be $86 billion per year by mid-century and $250 billion per year by the end of the century,” the report reads. “Over a ten-year period at the end of the century, ozone-linked respiratory illnesses could be associated with 270,000 hospitalizations and premature deaths — more than the population of Gatineau, Quebec.”


As the world warms, the range of disease vectors such as ticks and mosquitoes is set to expand even further into Canada. In a specific examination of Lyme disease, the institute reckons annual cases could reach 9,900 by the end of the year — a massive jump from the current yearly average of around 600.

Then there is the most obvious effect of climate change: more, and hotter, episodes of extreme heat.

“Even under the low-emissions scenario, heat-related hospitalization rates will increase by 21 per cent by mid-century compared to the current average and double by the end of the century,” noted the authors. “Further, the costs of death and reduced quality of life from heat-related deaths are substantial. By mid-century, we project these costs will range from $3.0 billion to $3.9 billion per year.”

Carter added that, in scenarios where emissions continue to increase, the costs to productivity could be as high as $14.8 billion per year — the equivalent of the loss of 62,000 jobs. The report also takes note of the mental health impacts over the worsening climate situation.

The researchers say productivity loss due to depression costs the Canadian economy $34 billion per year as it is, and anxiety costs $17 billion — both figures are likely to increase as the mental health impact of climate change ramps up.


The authors also warn that climate change’s health impacts will worsen the social divide in health outcomes that already exists due to racism, poverty, and geographic remoteness.

They put forth a number of recommendations for all orders of government to help prepare, such as funding adaptation policies to address the symptoms and causes of climate-related health risks.

There’s a fair bit of ground to make up: the institute says only $71 million has been set aside for health adaptation federally since 2017, around 0.3 per cent of total federal climate change program funding.

Clark says that’s likely because the urgency of the climate problem spurred governments to focus on reducing emissions to mitigate future climate change.

“But we know that because of past and current emissions, a certain amount of warming is already baked-in, and if we don’t start investing now in anticipating and responding to the consequences of that warming, it’s going to cost us far more in the future,” said Clark. “That’s a point that I think governments are only now starting to recognize.”

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